SPIRITUAL HONESTY IN THE BIBLE BELT
By NANCY PATRICK
Living in the Bible Belt of America has many advantages. Christian people who live morally upright lives, support their families, participate in their communities, donate to charities, and exemplify integrity and honor comprise the majority of the community.
In spite of the positive aspects of living in a Christian community, some people feel alone and alienated when they do not adopt the prevalent belief system. Those in the majority often presume that everyone else shares their spiritual beliefs. For that reason, the Abilene Interfaith Council (AIC) offers a safe place where people of all faith systems can express themselves honestly and without fear of ostracism. The AIC encourages open-mindedness and the free exchange of ideas and information regarding world religions and faith systems.
Whereas many religious denominations adhere to a strict definition of a Supreme Being with a specific name and definite attributes, many others allow for an open interpretation of God. Knowing that people all over the world have cultural roots that largely determine their faith systems encourages others to respect those differences and affirm the positive elements of those systems. For example, most, if not all religions, teach moral, ethical, spiritual, and cultural values and responsibilities.
The next meeting of the Abilene Interfaith Council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, in the south branch of the Abilene Public Library, located next to Penney’s in the Mall of Abilene. Susan Pigott, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Hardin-Simmons University, will speak on “Hidden Figures: Women in Hebrew Scriptures.” The meeting is free and open to the public.
The AIC provides opportunities to learn about many faiths. Understanding the depth and devotion expressed by members of other faiths has opened my mind and expanded my appreciation of spirituality. Religion and spirituality differ in many respects. Unlike religion, which implies rules, regulations, laws, and hierarchy, spirituality suggests freedom, individuality, equality, and mindfulness.
I now appreciate the spiritual concepts of Native Americans, especially their emphasis on the sacredness of nature. Their religion extols the value of stewardship of natural resources. They believe that someone greater than themselves acts as the generous parent figure who deserves respect and honor through responsible living.
At a recent meeting, I learned that the Baha’i faith exemplifies peace, acceptance, tolerance, and reverence for all faiths. In addition, I have listened to Islamic leaders explain the true nature of Islam, which contradicts the typical Western perspective of militant Islam. Jewish speakers have widened my appreciation of the Old Testament faith and its foundation for Christianity. Members of other faiths represented in the AIC include Catholics, Episcopalians, Mormons, Protestants, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Norse-Pagans.
Each faith has good people who spend their lives seeking God in their own ways. I do not question their sincerity, method, or worthiness. Just as I have struggled with doctrines and discrepancies within my own faith, others have the same freedom, privilege, and responsibility to fulfill their own spirituality without judgment from others.
The greatest test of my own faith came from the story of Job in the Old Testament. First, that God would allow Satan to torture a person on the whim of a wager worried me. Second, Job’s response to his antagonistic friends (“though he [God] slay me, yet will I trust in him”) challenged my faith. I asked myself the following questions:
- What if my church doctrine is faulty?
- Does heaven really exist?
- Is earthly life all there is?
Can I still trust in God if He does not fulfill my denominational tenets? If He has created a universe in which people, as animals, live here but then die and cease to exist, can I and will I accept this as God’s infinite design? Can I still love and honor a God who would do that?
I say “yes.” My faith has taken me to a place where I do not need to understand God’s behavior to accept His design. I now recognize that while my finite existence may allow me to see only the star, I can still believe the rest of the planets exist. My journey, though difficult and painstaking, has led me to others who have shared my struggle. When Alfred, Lord Tennyson, British Poet Laureate during Queen Victoria’s reign, lost his dearest friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson struggled with his faith in the throes of paralyzing grief. The following poem from his In Memoriam, A.H.H. expresses the humility needed in a true faith journey.
Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.